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Giovanni Battista Sammartini occupied a key position in the development of the symphony. Born in 1701, 31 years before Joseph Haydn, he, like his younger Austrian colleague, has been described as ‘the father of the symphony’, although his name and compositions will be less familiar to listeners.
Sammartini’s pioneering symphonies exerted a powerful influence over the emerging Mannheim School; here, young composers like Joseph Stamitz and J.C. Bach were to compose avant-garde works that evolved to become the standard fourmovement model of the Classical symphony.
Much of Sammartini’s output was mislaid during the French occupation of Milan; scores ended up in Paris and Vienna, and a substantial quantity were destroyed during the Second World War. However, some sets of parts survived, which allow us to appreciate fully why Sammartini was admired by the young Mozart and, that most perceptive of music commentators, Charles Burney. The last word is best left to Sammartini’s great Bohemian rival Josef Myslivecek, who, after hearing one of Sammartini’s symphonies, remarked, ‘I have now found the father of Haydn’s style’. Praise indeed.
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